Policing ballot initiative can go forward, Minnesota Supreme Court rules

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday reversed a lower court’s decision to block a ballot initiative that would ask voters whether they want to replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a public safety department. The state high court’s decision will allow the ballot initiative to move forward, Just the News reports.

The ballot question became an issue after the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police in May 2020, when the city council voted unanimously to replace the police department with a different model.

Specifically, the ballot proposal would remove the city charter minimum policing requirement that measures by city population the number of police officers required. The resulting “comprehensive public safety approach” would include police officers “if necessary to fulfill the department’s responsibilities,” as Just the News notes.

The measure will now be on the Nov. 2 ballot, for which early voting started on Friday.

“Unreasonable and misleading”

In the lower court ruling on the initiative, Hennepin County Judge Jamie Anderson said the ballot language was “unreasonable and misleading,” but the state Supreme Court disagreed.

Some of the plans that have been called police “defunding” are beginning to sound like more of a semantics game — a way to say that police are being defunded when really it is more of a shifting of responsibilities or a renaming of policing.

Unfortunately, the semantics of police defunding have seemed to embolden criminals, especially violent ones. Minneapolis has seen an uptick in violent crime since the “defunding” talk began, the same as most large cities have.

While educated and civilized people may be able to hear “police defunding” and know that law enforcement will still be a priority, criminals just hear that there won’t be police deployed to keep them from breaking the law, whether or not that is actually true.

The reality

In reality, fewer police could lead to a lack of enforcement. Some cities are already not enforcing what they consider to be minor crimes, like shoplifting or vandalism.

History should tell them that letting minor crimes go unpunished encourages bigger ones, especially in larger cities where it’s easier to be anonymous and slip through the cracks of other interventions.

In New York City in the 1990s, for instance, as enforcement of minor crimes increased, the incidence of major crimes decreased significantly. Again, when those who would commit crimes perceive that the police are aggressively enforcing the law, it has a deterrent effect.

It seems like Minneapolis and other large cities pursuing police defunding are just going to have to learn that again, the hard way.

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